Before minimalist designs, before tiny homes, before Marie Kondo taught us how to declutter, sailors have always known that storage space is limited on a boat. Hence the old adage, “Everything on a boat should have two uses.”
Whether you have a 16-footer or 60-footer, are a weekend warrior or a fulltime live aboard you are probably facing the same obstacles when it comes to stowing your boat. Odd shaped compartments, hard to reach holds and a seemingly endless list of “necessary items” to put away. Here are a few tried and tested Space Saving Storage Solutions to make stowing your boat a pleasure rather than a chore.
Soft Storage Sacks
Boat design is all about the carefully conceived curves, so rarely will you find nice, neat square storage space. Using a container that has hard, angular edges can further reduce the volume of an already tight storage area. Opting for a soft sided bin or basket means the container can conform to the odd shape of the hold. In dry compartments, try a soft canvas or mesh bag. For potentially wet storage areas a sturdy roll-top, waterproof gear sack will keep goodies safe.
With the advent of silicon there are now a variety of collapsible storage bins on the market. These pieces are a handy addition, allowing the convenience of having many luxury items onboard without cluttering up cupboards. Full-sized bowls, measuring cups, salad spinners and washtubs all accordion down flat and can be stacked and stowed in small spaces when not in use.
Folding Tables and Chairs
Often times common areas on a boat are multi-use. The cockpit, for instance, needs to be a functional space while underway but it is a favorite hangout spot when on anchor. Having a folding table, whether it is a built in or completely removable, allows you to enjoy a meal under the stars as well as make room for crew to work while the boat is moving. Folding chairs stow easily but accommodate extra guests around the table. The salty, marine environment is harsh, quickly corroding items that may last years on dry land. When buying folding tables and chairs check that the hinges are durable, and the item is made out of high quality stainless, aluminum or plastic.
There is always a spot on the wall, a strange-shaped nook or a cupboard door that could be utilized for storage simply by adding a hook. Hang keys, bags, hats and other everyday items on a hook for quick access. Adding a few hooks in the head makes for a spot to hang a dry towel, and a hook by each bunk is a great spot for an in case of emergency, easy to reach flashlight. If permanently affixing a hook with screws is undesirable, look for heavy duty 3M removable hooks that don’t require tools and won’t damage surfaces.
Popular on boats since boats started floating, small hammocks are a terrific way to store items such as clothing and blankets when not in use. Usually made out of netting these hammocks make the most out of empty spaces. Taking up very little room when not in use they expand and accommodate any shaped items, stowing them safely in a conveniently reached spot. Many people also use net hammocks in the galley to store fresh fruit and vegetables instead of taking up precious fridge space. Net hammocks do allow for more airflow around your produce but softer fruit such as peaches, pears and summer squash may be cut or damaged by the thin net strings.
Usually partitioned and designed for use in a closet to store items such as shoes these handy organizers are great on a boat. Pretty enough to be hung within sight they make a great spot to store towels in the head, a place to stow soft toys in a kid’s cabin or hung in a closet to keep clothing tidy. Hanging organizers are also a neat way to keep the crew items corralled while underway. Simply colour cod or number each nook and every crew person can have a place to put small items when not in use.
Trying to maximize storage space means making use of every available nook and cranny, including the ones directly overhead. There are purpose-made bags on the market like the “T-Bag” that are designed to attach to the underside of a t-top or bimini. Large enough to store items like life jackets and safety equipment that are needed in the cockpit, they provide a spot to stow gear out of the weather but within easy reach. If there is head room down below utilizing overhead nets or bags is also a cleaver way to stow light weight items like bed linens or clothing.
Whether it’s on a rail, the wall or over a door, a hanging pocket is a handy way to keep things tidy. Used to keep lines in the cockpit from being dangerously underfoot, the anchor rode from becoming tangled on the bow or a pair of binoculars within reach of the helmsman. Made out of canvas or a weatherized mesh, hanging pockets come in a variety of colors and sizes. Turn the back of a sliding door into a wall of pockets to store shoes, sunscreen, gloves, even fishing lures. Placed in the head, pockets can instantly organize crew toiletries and be a spot to hold precious jewelry items while showering or swimming. Use a hanging pocket in the galley to make frequently reached for condiments, snacks or coffee mugs easily accessible. There are never too many hanging pockets on a boat.
At first glance a pillow doesn’t seem like it belongs in this list, after all pillows can take up a lot of space. However, making a pillow do double duty turns it into a super space saver. Stuff pillow cases with extra or unused bedding, clothes or towels to keep the cabin tidy and give people a soft spot to lean. Choosing pillow cases that accent the décor of the boat will ensure that even the most discerning guest won’t guess your secret storage solution.
Heavy duty or industrial Velcro is an easy way to keep small items from sliding around while underway. Self-adhesive and customizable to any shape Velcro pads can be stuck by the helm to keep small gadgets within sight of the captain or used to secure delicate items down below. Velcro can also be used on vertical surfaces, keeping décor items like photos firmly in place. Strong enough to keep overhead panels stuck in place or chair backs in proper position Velcro is a heavy hitter when it comes to storage solutions onboard.
Need to compress large items like bedding or store seasonal clothes? Vacuum bags to the rescue. Buying provisions in bulk but want to preserve the freshness of half your order? Vacuum bags to the rescue. Need to ensure that items like flares and the emergency medical kit in the ditch bag are waterproof? Vacuum bags to the rescue. Available in sizes ranging from 8” x 10” to suitcase-sized, vacuum bags are an amazing, and extremely versatile, storage solution. Vacuum bags not only compress items by removing air but also seals them in a heavy-duty air-tight, and waterproof, bag. When opened the items like clothes and bedding are dryer-fresh. Foodstuffs that are vacuum packed are not only free of bugs and moisture but removing air prevents spoilage and extends potential shelf time. For the avid fishermen a vacuum packer is the quickest and easiest way to portion and preserve the days catch. Items frozen in vacuum packed bags are less prone to freezer burn.
Perhaps one of the best storage solutions for the galley a magnetic strip is both handy and unobtrusive. Mounted on a bulkhead a magnetic strip is the best way to keep knives out of harms way. Strong enough to keep items secure in a rough seaway magnetic strips are also a convenient place to stow a pair of scissors or a bottle opener. Mount one in the cockpit and keep fishing lures from becoming tangled or falling underfoot, not to mention keep the fileting knife ready for action. Some magnetics strips are sold with a selection of metal canisters which provide a convenient way to sort spices in the galley or keep small items like nuts and bolts tidy in the tool kit.
Used to gather and hang lines in a storage hold, tie down odd shaped equipment or keep canvas from flapping in a breeze bungee cords, or shock cords, are indispensable on a boat. One stretched around a storage bin or long a wall makes a spot to tuck flip flops. Use a bungee to hang a roll of paper towel or create a spot to hang sunglasses so they won’t get scratched. Stretch a bungee cord overhead to make an instant clothes line to dry a wet towel after a swim. Fasten a length of shock cord along a wall at regular intervals to create a custom storage solution for hand tools like screwdrivers or a spatula in the galley. A bungee cord never stays idle on a boat.
Hanging Glass Racks & Cup Hooks
Once only found in your favorite local pub, hanging racks are now common place on boats. Used to store drinking glasses these simple metal racks install under cabinets or overheads and add a touch of class to any boat. Hanging stemware not only frees up precious cupboard space but delicate glassware is stored safely in an easy to reach spot. Cup hooks are traditionally mounted on the underside of a shelf or cupboard and are a way to store more durable items like coffee mugs.
Nesting Pots and Dishes
Cupboard space in the galley can quickly get taken over by dishes and cookware. One easy way to maximize galley storage is to invest in dishes that neatly stack and pots that nest inside one another. No need to break the bank at the chandlery, although there are lots of thoughtful products available there. Simply keep storage in mind when you are choosing pots and pans – make sure they stack together neatly, avoid long handles on pans and lids, look for a pot and pan that are the same diameter so one lid can be used on two items. For dishes choose low profile plates and make sure they are small enough to fit inside the cupboard, many galley storage areas are narrower than a typical dinner plate.
It seems impossible to live without handheld gadgets these days, and it doesn’t take long before there is a tangle of cords clogging up the counter next to the nearest outlet. To avoid an unsightly mess, and to charge as many devices as possible at once consider installing a dedicated charging station. Designed to hold multiple devices while tastefully hiding all those USB cords, charging stations are a cleaver way to stay charged up and clutter free. For an even more boat friendly solution, turn a drawer into a charging station. The stack of devices will be out of sight and won’t fall off the counter while the boat is in motion.
Custom Built Options
Sometimes the best option is one that is tailored to your specific needs, especially when it comes to getting the most out of storage space on a boat. Tables that fold against a bulkhead walls, a sofa that conceals a built-in fridge, a lift away counter top that hides the onboard bar. If you are in the market for a new boat, then exploring what custom storage options each design offer could buy you a few more square feet of usable space. And, for those who are already boat owners, custom modifications can mean the difference between boating in chaos or living clutter-free.
Think Outside the Boat
There has been a trend in recent years to downsize and declutter, to live with less and do more. With an increasing number of people choosing to live in small spaces there are more products and storage ideas for those spaces. Yes, there are a few more obstacles on a boat- items have to be secured for sea and often need to be waterproof – but don’t get stuck at the local marine store. Many of the storage ideas used by RV-ers and Tiny Home owners are perfect fits for boat storage as well, you just have to think outside the boat.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2020, and was last updated on September 23, 2021.
Heather Francis gives us an insider's look at the live aboard life and answers some frequently asked...